It is 7:30 am. I reach out to turn off my alarm as the sun rays creep through my window. I have a quick breakfast and head outside for the university on foot.
As I walk, I spot a familiar face, Sara. We say ‘hi’ and she tells me that she has now applied for Optometry and may be joining my university soon. I congratulate her and walk on, thinking, wow, that's surprising – not that she applied for Optometry, but the fact that she even made it so far.
I was introduced to Sara many years ago, when I was completing an assignment for Psychology. Sara had told me that when she was young, she used to cut her wrists with a blade whenever she felt something wasn’t going her way. Her suicidal symptoms had appeared at the young age of 16.
When asked why she hadn't told her family or sought help, she said what most people would have said, “I didn’t want them to think I was crazy or losing my mind” – a response which is very common, because of the way society frowns upon depression or any other illness associated with the mind.
Also read: Suicide, and the warning signs we miss
The only reason that Sara was saved from the road to suicide was because a friend had spotted the scars on her wrist. It was her friend who notified a teacher, who also happened to be the school counsellor.
The school counsellor sat with her everyday until her suicidal thoughts disappeared. Self-surveys were used to monitor her progress, diaries were kept for recording her thoughts; she was able to speak about her problems knowing that her problems were not going to leave the room.
Why is it that we hesitate to extend a helping hand to individuals around us trapped in depression?
Is it because we feel we do not have the expertise?
Or have we become so numb that it is easier to turn a blind eye to issues like these rather than make an effort to fix them?
I’m assuming many students may have seen Sara’s condition but only one spoke up about it. It’s not uncommon to keep quiet. I did the same thing when I went to Pakistan.
When I visited Pakistan back in 2013, I met a girl, who was preparing for her Masters exam. I could tell that there was something wrong, but could not quite pinpoint exactly what. I think I may have kept quiet because I did not want to offend her.
Later, I learned that her mother was suffering from Hepatitis C, and this girl, being the only daughter, had the burden of looking after everything. There were times that she kept quiet, sad, lost in her own trail of thoughts, misunderstood, and then there were times that she became very angry and agitated.
She was not sad, she was depressed.
Even now, she doesn’t have the time to seek help or talk about her issues, and also resists accepting help from anyone, responding with anger towards her aunts and uncles.
Contrary to what most people think, the idea that 'someone who has everything should not be suffering from depression' is outright wrong. It is an illness and it attacks people irrespective of their materialistic possessions or achievements.
I know many people in Pakistan who live lavish lives but still seem to be suffering from depression. These individuals, when stressed, resort to over-the-counter medication. Most of them go beyond one tablet and prefer taking two or even three, in the hopes of completely forgetting about their ordeal.
Depression leads to 80 per cent of suicides according to World Health Organisation. Men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide as they fail to speak up, afraid of coming across as 'weak'.
We know of Robbin Williams, Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe and many others in a long list of famous people who suffered from depression. Recently, Deepika Padukone's public revelation added her name to that list.
Deepika disclosed that she had suffered from depression, as well as anxiety in the past year, and that she overcame her depression by speaking out to her aunt and then a psychologist. What was shocking was that after her recovery and upon her return from her break, her friend had committed suicide because she also happened to be suffering from depression and anxiety.
But then, we are all told depression is all in the mind, and we will get over it. Well, that is true to a certain extent. But of course, there is a difference between being sad and being depressed; one being a state of emotion and the other being long-term dissatisfaction.
Depression is actually a physiological condition caused by decreased levels of the chemical serotonin in our brains.
It may be 'in the mind' but it is certainly much more than a temporary conundrum – it is a disease, so let us talk about it like one.
Take the screening test for depression here.